Bloomberg Businessweek

The Electorate: America Divided

  • The Data
  • Partisan Ohio
  • Middle Class
  • Job Lovers
  • Mark Cuban
  • Old People
  • American Frights
  • Gun-Rights
  • Counterculture
  • Modern Church
  • Drake Lessons
  • Childcare
  • Graduate Salaries
  • Rural American Dream
  • What’s at Stake?
  • Population Growth
  • Refugee Haven
  • American-Made*
  • Alt-Right
  • The Anger Won't End
  • America’s Divisions Are a Cause for Hope

Why Old People Keep Working

“I have some friends my age who aren’t working anymore, and they’re boring.”

September 15, 2016

Fred Bass, 88

Co-owner, Strand Book Store in New York, N.Y., with his daughter, Nancy Bass Wyden, wife of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat

Photographer: Caroline Tompkins for Bloomberg Businessweek

“I’ve worked here for more than 70 years, starting when I was 13 and came after school to help my father. It’s in my blood. I moved the store from Fourth Avenue, where there used to be 48 booksellers, to 828 Broadway. We own the building now and have the space we need for thousands of used, rare, and new books. It was row by row, building this place. I used to work six days a week, 10 hours a day, and on the seventh day visited private libraries. I’m obsessed with this business. I like the whole atmosphere, the customers who come in, and of course all the books and the ideas in them that open entire new worlds. But now I’m working for my daughter. She’s in charge.

These days, I come in four days a week, Mondays through Thursdays, from about 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. I usually have lunch, a sandwich, at my desk. Until eight months ago I was doing more, but my body has caught up with my age. I still work at the buy counter, and it’s always a treasure hunt. You never know what you’re going to find.

What would I do if I wasn’t doing this? I actually wanted to be a truck driver on a giant rig and travel the nation. I thought of going to truck-driving school on the side. But this business has overwhelmed me, and I haven’t fought that, I just accept it. Once you’re out of a business, you’re out. I have some friends my age who aren’t working anymore, and they’re boring. They’re too much into themselves. They talk about things like having a flat tire last week. Here I’m around people of all different ages. Being here is more fun than going to the movies.”
—As told to Carol Hymowitz

Ron Dockweiler, 67

Long-haul truck driver for Brink Truck Lines, out of Holland, Mich.

Photographer: Caroline Tompkins for Bloomberg Businessweek

“Driving a truck always fascinated me. I look forward to traveling. I never get tired of it. I can’t afford the big retirement and motor home to do it with my own money. So I’m doing it on someone else’s money. I usually stay in my truck and work all week. Now I’m hauling baby food and beauty products through Fort Wayne, Ind., into Ohio and on to North Carolina. Sometimes I run to Texas.

My wife is an RN, and she’s still working. We don’t feel like we can make it on what we have in retirement, savings, and Social Security. I would like to go down and fish for bass in a pond near my house. I would also like to visit my grandchildren in Nevada. If you talk to the working-class people I know, fellas that are union electricians and union sheet metal workers that have gotten to retirement age, their 401(k)s have fallen apart. More working-class, blue-collar guys don’t feel like they can make it. Everything costs more—insurance, property tax, groceries.

I am going to vote for Trump. It’s not because I’m totally in love with Trump. I’m so disgusted with ties between Washington insiders and banking and corporations. I see on a daily basis people working in manufacturing that are barely making it. When I started out, quite a few people my age had decent factory jobs, and a lot of times their wives didn’t have to work. Now my nieces and nephews and people I know, they wouldn’t make it without both of them working full time.”
—As told to Jennifer Oldham